Barbour, Musgrove Continue Campaigning Until Last Minute

As long as there were voters to meet and hands to shake, Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Republican challenger Haley Barbour stayed on the campaign trail election day.

"Today's a great day. The last several days have just really been great days,'' Musgrove said in a phone interview late Tuesday afternoon as he greeted people at a north Jackson precinct.

"People just want a governor that's going to stand up and fight for us, to protect and keep good jobs, to bring better jobs, and a governor who is going to put education as a top priority, which is what I've done,'' said Musgrove, who made stops Tuesday in northeast Mississippi, the Delta and metro Jackson.

Barbour did not immediately return phone calls. His campaign staff said Barbour had a full day of campaigning Tuesday, even as people were going to cast ballots. He was to shake hands in downtown Jackson a couple hours before the 7 p.m. closing of polls.

Heavy turnout was reported around the state on a day with blue skies and temperatures in the 80s.

John Bruce, a political science professor at the University of Mississippi, said though Musgrove and Barbour ran a tough campaign with ads criticizing each other, the two candidates took similar positions on many issues.

Bruce said he took statements about gun ownership, abortion and other issues off campaign Web sites and quizzed his students about which candidate had made the statements. He said many thought the statements came from Barbour - but all the positions came from Musgrove.

"They're both conservative,'' Bruce said. "They're almost identical on a lot of issues.''

Three lesser known candidates - the Green Party's Sherman Lee Dillon, the Constitution Party's John Thomas Cripps, and the Reform Party's Shawn O'Hara - also were on Tuesday's ballots for governor.

The Musgrove-Barbour race was the most expensive in Mississippi political history. Barbour raised $10.6 million and Musgrove raised $8.5 million, the campaigns said. Musgrove, 47, served two terms in the state Senate and one as lieutenant governor before winning the closest governor's race in Mississippi history four years ago.

With two lesser known candidates on the 1999 ballots, neither Musgrove nor the Republican gubernatorial nominee, former U.S. Rep. Mike Parker, won either of the two requirements - a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the 122 House districts. Musgrove, however, led Parker by 8,342 votes.

The race was decided in the state House in January 2000. Representatives are not required to vote as their districts did, and Musgrove was elected 86-36 in the Democrat-controlled chamber.

Musgrove spent much of his term feuding with legislative leaders over how much money the state should spend. With the state economy in a slump, Musgrove said legislators were planning to spend more money than the state would collect.

He once vetoed all budget bills and the House and Senate overrode his vetoes. Months later, when revenues fell short of legislators' projections, Musgrove was forced to cut millions of dollars from the budget.

While campaigning for a second term, Musgrove often pointed to two achievements: Luring a Nissan plant to Mississippi with a $363 million incentive package and winning legislative approval for a multimillion dollar teacher pay raise plan.

Barbour, 56, was Republican National Committee chairman from 1993-1997. He is chairman and CEO of Barbour Griffith & Rogers, a top-ranked Washington lobbying firm whose clients include defense giant Lockheed Martin, pharmaceutical company Bristol-Meyers Squibb and cigarette maker Brown and Williamson Tobacco.

Barbour was political director for President Reagan in the mid-1980s and was one of 10 people on George W. Bush's presidential exploratory committee in 1999.

A host of big-name Republicans traveled to Mississippi this year to campaign for Barbour. Among them were President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)